Waterfalls, Mountains and Small Towns: A Guide through North Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee

Advisor - Lauren McClemens
Curated By

Lauren McClemens

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  • North Carolina

  • Tennessee

  • Nature Escapes

  • City Travel

  • Outdoors

  • Mountains

  • Hiking

Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Curator’s statement

Clayton, in northeastern Georgia, is just one quaint small town amongst the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains: with a Main Street offering good eats, local shops and a neighbor friendly atmosphere it's easy to fall in love with the area. Central to various waterfalls and mountain tops, Clayton plays home for those looking to adventure in and around the Smokey's. A quick drive in any direction gives one plenty of opportunity to see waterfalls, the highest mountain point in Georgia, other unique towns like Helen, Georgia, and a quick hour and forty-five minutes north one can see the spectacular Great Smoky Mountain National Park. This area is great for families looking to explore the mountains or solo travelers looking for their next adventure.

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Where to stay in North Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee

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Days Inn by Wyndham Clayton

Enjoy comfort and convenience at Days Inn Clayton, where cozy accommodations, friendly service, and a central location in Clayton, North Carolina, provide a relaxing and pleasant stay for both business and leisure travelers.

Kingswood Resort

Embrace nature and tranquility at Kingswood Resort, where comfortable accommodations, scenic surroundings, and a range of outdoor activities offer a peaceful and refreshing stay in a serene location.

White Birch Inn

Experience charming hospitality and cozy comfort at White Birch Inn, where welcoming accommodations, personalized service, and a warm ambiance create a delightful stay in a quaint setting.

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Things to do in North Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee

bridge in fall foliage


Downtown Clayton - Main street is a quaint spot to visit, and nearby if staying in the area. Local shopping, but know they do close early (it's a small town after all) and restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops.

Helen, Georgia - Helen, only a short drive from Clayton (approx. 45 min), is a small Bavarian style "village" perfect for outdoor activities, shopping and German restaurants and bakeries. The Chattahoochee river runs through the town where they offer tubing adventures for a family fun day with a gem and gold outpost for panning, an alpine mountain coaster and mini golf courses to keep the fun going. A great place to get a taste of Germany without leaving the US.

Franklin, NC - Another small town that's good for a stop along the way in your travels. Food and shopping opportunities. Check out Cook-Out if you haven't tried the fast-food joint yet!

Parks and Water Falls

Great Smokey National Park - Not sure this one needs a lot of explaining, but you have to check it out! Entering from the south, coming from Clayton, you'll stop and visit the Oconaluftee Visitor Center (grab a parking pass here, entry to the park is free but they do require parking passes throughout the park — they're $5). Check out their guides and ask any questions about the park here. Off to Climgmans Dome, it's the highest point in the park and the views are amazing.. check it out early as it can get busy! A must see view is the Newfoundland Gap and Carlos Campbell overlook. Visit the Sugarlands visitor center before driving through Gatlinburg to another park entrance.

*You can always add in Gatlinburg, I did not in my travels as I would prefer that to be more of a family spot over a solo traveler spot, entirely up to you!!*

The next entrance you'll have an opportunity to take a one-way road through a loop to various lookouts, creeks, waterfall and tree lined streets that just look spectacular! Worth the drive through Gatlinburg to see that loop. Along the loop check out Rainbow Falls, Roaring Fork, Alfred Reagan Tub Mill and The Place of a Thousand Drips.

Throughout the entire journey there are hiking trails and a number of different lookout points to stop and see — I encourage you to do both!

Toccoa Falls - While you might think you're in the wrong place, this waterfall is one to see! Located right by Toccoa Falls College, they offer a $2 access to see the falls, and it's pretty beautiful. While it's not a long trek to the falls from the visitor center, it's right along a creek that runs with trickling water sounds — very peaceful. The falls are viewable from the path, or take a peak from the top of the rocks — quite a view!

Tallulah Falls/Tallulah Gorge State Park - A quick drive north of Toccoa is a State Park you can enter for just $5. In the park you can visit the visitors center where there is history of the area you're in, and access to the trails where you can see different waterfalls and sights of Georgia. Take a hike up to a higher point and see the gorge from a higher elevation (gain 212 ft in elevation to the lookout area) or take on 1032 steps to access the gorge. Great sights and beautiful falls to experience. Bring water!

GA/NC/GA Loop — Clayton roundtrip

Popcorn Overlook - A great viewing spot for rolling mountainous views.

Brasstown Bald - The highest point in Georgia. It's a cool drive up, albeit steep and at the top you'll be at over 4,700 feet in elevation. The arrival point offers a gift shop and restrooms before taking a 20-30 minute hike up to the highest point, or a 5 minute, or less, drive up on a shuttle bus takes you to the tower where you can lookout over the mountainous landscape for a beautiful sight.

Bell Mountain - Skip if you're not comfortable driving on very steep and narrow roads. This one was a bit harder, however definitely worth checking out if you think you can do it! This stop is the last one in Georgia on this round trip drive.

Shooting Creek Overlook - Head north into North Carolina for Shooting Creek Overlook. Another stop along the mountainous drive. A look out over the mountain tops is a sight you can't miss — get your camera's ready!

Black Rock Mountain State Park - Another state park with trails and various spots to stop and take in the scenery. This one is a must in your travels. Perfect for the Clayton Round Trip loop as a last stop before heading back into town.

Places to eat & drink in North Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee

four glasses filled with beer on a wooden table during daytime

Clayton Cafe: Whether stopping in for breakfast, a coffee, lunch or just a snack - it's a must-see spot. Fun fact - Mr. Walt Disney himself has had meals here! (No official website found)

White Birch Provisions: They have a great cup of coffee, delicious baked goods and a cute shop to check out too. It's a counter service bakery with quiches and a delicious, must-try banana bread.

Bojangles and Cookout: Yes, they're fast food - but if you're in the area and don't have this near home - they're worth checking out!

Fortify Kitchen and Bar: Treat yourself! Try their fried green tomatoes and order the old fashioned, it's good!

Fortify Pi: Artisan-style fire-grilled pizza pies! A fancy take on your classic pizza, get the Newton, trust me. Grab a local beer on tap to accompany your meal. Also, that fried mozzarella is a great addition to the pizza if you're sharing (or alone, no judgment...I did it!).

Universal Joint: Or as I heard the locals call it "U Joint". If it's nice enough, sit outside - they have a great patio and cool vibe. Try the Old 1-2 burger, and if you're up for a starter and never had Pimento Cheese (a Georgia must-try), snack on the Pimento Cheese Platter!

Currahee Brewing: They seem to have a knack for an IPA. If that's your beer, this spot is for you. It's just outside of the downtown Main street, super convenient and perfect for indoor or outdoor seating. Try the Lucky Scars Hazy IPA.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check Fora Advisor Joslyn Weaver's guide, Romantic Long Weekend Getaway in Asheville.

Advisor - Lauren McClemens

Travel Advisor

Lauren McClemens

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to North Carolina, travel to Georgia and travel to Tennessee.